Friday lunchtime lecture: The Barbados Blackbelly Sheep: A valuable indigenous resource

Agriculture will never be a huge part of the Barbados economy, but it needs to be much bigger than it is now.   Every society must try to feed itself. Local food is especially important for tourism, because a substantial number of higher-end travelers place high priority on uniquely-local food.

The next lecture in the lunchtime series will be delivered on Friday 2010-August-06 by Mr. Leroy McClean, Consul-General for Barbados at Toronto, at the “Errol Barrow Gallery”, DLP Headquarters, ‘Kennington’, George Street, Belleville, St. Michael. The topic will be “The Barbados Blackbelly Sheep: A Valuable Indigenous Resource”.  As usual lunch will be served from 12.30 pm and the lecture will start at 1.00 pm.


Filed under Agriculture, Barbados

5 responses to “Friday lunchtime lecture: The Barbados Blackbelly Sheep: A valuable indigenous resource

  1. Cheryl

    Who feeds you, Controls you!

  2. Cheryl

    Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010
    By: Jeffery Hall, Contributor

    Rescue the Perishing

    A STATE of emergency for agriculture! Wow! The goal of this declaration and its accompanying emergency powers would be to create jobs and growth in agri-business.

    In the last 12 months, Jamaica opted for extraordinary measures to clamp down on crime and to manage the government debt. In each case, policymakers prescribed a dose of national shock therapy. Shock therapy typically requires the patient to submit himself to some kind of short-term discomfort in order to experience immediate relief. An emerging hypothesis is that we are a nation that reacts favourably to this sort of healing and it could perhaps be applied more generally.

    Let us look at agriculture.

    Our framework for shock therapy as public policy has two critical elements:

    1. As a result of prolonged national neglect, we are compelled to act. The consequences of inaction are now manifestly worse than almost any reasonable course of action.

    2. We draw first on resources that we own and control. We do this as a pre-condition to seeking international support.

    The first element of the emergency framework for agriculture is easily satisfied. Despite the valiant work of Minister Christopher Tufton and his team, Jamaican agriculture has yet to overcome its years of policy neglect. In every traditional export crop, family members are gathering for the administration of last rites to the industry as we knew it.

    The second element of the emergency framework holds the promise that should motivate us. There are two big opportunities in agriculture that are within our control: (1) We can directly stimulate the local market, and (2) We can shed the bureaucratic impediments to investment in export production.

    If these goals are accomplished (alongside a continued reduction in crime and the renewed appetite for loans to the productive sector), then we can ultimately generate international support in the form of new markets and new investment.

    The local market

    Minister Tufton indicated in his 2010 Budget presentation that our 2009 food import bill was US$802 million. He then cited a joint study by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Customs Department that concluded that a third of this imported food – US$261 million – could be directly replaced by local production. There was an implication that the opportunity for local production could be greater if we were to indirectly substitute imports with different types of local foods.

    Put simply, if we choose to spend our own money in a different way, there is a commercial opportunity for agriculture that is bigger than the highest annual exports of sugar, bananas, cocoa, coffee, coconuts and citrus combined (in any of the last five years). Moreover, there is a valid concern that if we refuse to buy more of our own produce, then we can’t seriously propose a development model that relies on others to do so.

    The first element of the agricultural state of emergency, therefore, would be a series of aggressive stimulus measures to drive local consumption. For example, we could agree a reasonable period of time – the state of emergency – during which all supermarkets, government offices, hotels, restaurants, schools, prisons and other public places of business make tangible commitments to serve or stock or promote Jamaican food (or a much higher percentage of Jamaican-grown food than they ordinarily offer), with households being encouraged to follow suit. This could be accompanied by short-term high-impact tax incentives for agro-processors that make use of local inputs (such as the reduction in the GCT paid on their output) that are offset by the maximum use of customs powers in relation to imported produce.

    Agricultural competitiveness depends fundamentally on scale and productivity. The recent experience of Jamaica Producers Group and others teaches that a little attention from the local market can form the basis for profitable investment in commercial farming on a reasonable scale. With real scale, input costs can be reduced, training, technology, new energy approaches and contemporary management systems become feasible, security costs can be spread, formal financing becomes available, and supportive networks and institutions can develop. And with all of these things comes productivity and improved yields.

    Export opportunities

    The argument for scale is relevant to local markets but is absolutely essential to export markets. Paradoxically, however, the basic organising principle of our export agricultural policy for many decades has been to use resources to protect the small farmer even if his unit of production was fundamentally uneconomic and uncompetitive. We confused social policy with export agriculture. A bureaucratic garrison of puffed up and costly commodity boards and government-controlled marketing bodies, splintered agricultural lands, and extension services based on subsistence agriculture was allowed to exist in the name of protecting the small farmer. And it has served its purpose!

    According to the minister of agriculture, 11,000 cocoa farmers produced J$200 million of primary output in 2009. This amounts to gross income of less than J$20,000 per “farmer” per year. The average gross revenues per coffee farmer were less than J$200,000 per year, and the average gross revenues per sugar farmer were J$617,000. Of course, the revenues per employee – as distinct from revenues per farm owner – are even lower and are well below the minimum wage and the wage that well-developed commercial farms should pay. And this is before we deduct the cost of production.

    In all of these export sectors, the average farmer had better be doing something other than farming if he is to make a living.

    One downside of our longstanding approach to export agriculture was that support systems and resources were diverted from sustainable commercial-scale agriculture. By far the more important consequence, however, was that serious prospective local and international investors in export crops were made wary of our bureaucracy and they took their money and their market opportunities elsewhere.

    Fortunately, the bureaucratic garrison is our creation and we can dismantle it.

    An agricultural state of emergency would remedy the problem by quickly divesting Government of any commercial role in the business of produce exports and would put this entire apparatus in the hands of the best capitalised and most capable investors possible. The only major function of Government in the commercialisation of produce would be to certify, based on examination and enquiry, that what an exporter says is in a container is what is in fact in the container. How much they get paid and who they sell to would become the farmers’ business.

    Extraordinary measures to deal with crime called first on our own security forces to act, with national support. Extraordinary measures to manage the national debt called first on the broad pool of our own local debt holders to act in the national interest. In each case, there was a cocktail of law enforcement and high-powered moral suasion to buttress the argument for national action. So it must be with agriculture.

    The model of the Jamaica Debt Exchange is a particularly impressive example of moral suasion against a backdrop of legislative power. Like many other Jamaican investors, in January, I received a wonderfully worded New Year’s letter from the Hon Audley Shaw, minister of finance and the public service. It was attached to a packet of papers that bore the attractive title ‘Invitation to Participate in the Jamaica Debt Exchange’. The last paragraph of the two-page letter was the real invitation. It read:

    “We are confident that we will receive the support of … market leaders in this endeavour. However, we are also aware of the temptation for some … to refrain from participating in order to continue to receive the existing high returns. As a matter of basic fairness, we plan to actively address the management of … this transaction to eliminate any relative benefits that would accrue to non-participants.”

    Enough said! Now, we need to be invited to participate in the rescue of Jamaican agriculture.

    Jeffery Hall is managing director of Jamaica Producers Group.

    10 goals for reform

    Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Christopher Tufton, believes there are 10 critical areas of focus and/or reform to continue the drive to rebrand and rebuild the sector:

    1. Import-duty protection – Physical restrictions need to be lifted as they guarantee unfair competition against local produce.

    2. Incentives for agro-processing.

    3. Improved agricultural education.

    4. Improved market intelligence to allow expansion in value-added products.

    5. Improved technical support for farmers in the field.

    6. Improved land use.

    7. Consistency in the implementation of agricultural incentives.

    8. Encourage large-scale investment.

    9. Better systems against praedial larceny.

    10. Improved market intelligence.

  3. jonno

    Upwardly ‘mobile’

    Sorry thought it said Blackberry

  4. contributions

    After a number of years now, it is apparent that bloggers including members of both parties and readers of blogs and Barbadian citizens have been using the blogs to get their stories or message told. Some people agree, others disagree and others add pertinent information to the story.

    Unless the message is offensive or personal, you too can send in your your story that affects Barbados.

    Cheryl, feel free to contribute in a positive forum.

  5. Cape Horn

    Can someone in DLP and close to this administration tell Barbadians why half of the BTI board resigned en masse earlier this year? Owing has hinted at it, what does that mean? Was it because they refused to award a contract to Gline Bannaster (dodds fame) to fleece the treasury?